Students in middle and high school in Darien schools will be graded with a “pass with distinction,” “pass,” or “no credit” for the fourth quarter, according to the school administration.

The Board of Education held a special meeting on Tuesday morning with a presentation by newly arrived assistant superintendent Christopher Tranberg.

Schools Superintendent Dr. Alan Addley began the discussion by saying the unprecedented times called for an unprecedented grading system.

“Any system I present is going to be imperfect, but it is an imperfect world in which we are operating at the moment,” Addley said.

The plan took into account community and staff input and evaluated how each grade level would be prepared for their next year — from third graders to fourth, or juniors ready to engage in college searches, to seniors having “adequate closure” to their experience in Darien, Tranberg said.

Secondary students

For secondary students at Middlesex and Darien High School, the fourth quarter will be evaluated by the student either passing with distinction, passing, or no credit.

Passing with Distinction will have to “exceed performance standards,” as well as “applied complex skills in new settings” and completed homework and classwork at an exemplary level.

Students who “pass” have met performance standards and completed homework and classwork satisfactorily.

Those who receive “no credit” are those who have not completed most of their work and were unable to demonstrate an adequate level of proficiency. Those who receive “no credit” are given until the start of the following school year to successfully obtain the “pass” level.

For the end of year reporting for Darien High School students, the fourth quarter grade will be taken together with the letter grade received for third quarter. If students have an A- for third quarter, and receive a pass or a pass with distinction, they will receive “one incremental increase” to their A-, to receive an A for the second quarter.

Those with B+ through F who receive a Pass with distinction will receive two incremental increases, so a B, for example, would be an A-. Those with B+ through F for third quarter and a Pass for the fourth quarter would receive one incremental increase, so a B+ would get an A-.

Those with a grade of A through F who receive a no credit for the fourth quarter will have a No credit for the second semester until they complete the necessary work to achieve a Pass.

Middlesex Middle School will earn the same third and fourth quarter grades as Darien High School, but will not receive a final year-end grade because their classes are year-long and because placement recommendations have already been made for high school.

Elementary schools

Currently, elementary students are given progress reports with numbers that evaluate their progress from 1 to 4. Three indicates meeting grade level standards while 4 indicates they exceed.

For the third trimester, students will receive either an A for “approaching standards” or an “M” for meeting them.

Teacher comments will also be included.

Discussion

Board member Jill McCammon asked Tranberg what was taken into consideration to come up with the approach. He said the final proposal “was a compromise. Everyone had to give a little.”

Tranberg said especially at the secondary level, teachers, department heads and building administration had a lot of feedback because the grading system “was entirely new.”

“We have to kind of put aside what we know about traditional grades. We’re calling it a new system because that’s what exactly what it is,” he said.

Middlesex Middle School principal Shelley Somers said the district was focusing on all the content that was most necessary for the student to proceed to the next grade. She also said the levels from Pass with Distinction to No credit would be evaluated by individual students.

“There might be a student doing really exemplary work for that student,” she said.

Darien High School principal Ellen Dunn said she felt the new process was an opportunity to work together and “remove the 91 or 92, and take a holistic view of their work.”

She added the staff would be in constant communication with students and the ultimate grade wouldn’t be a surprise.

Emotional impact

Addley addressed how eLearning work could be impacted by those dealing with social and emotional issues at home, or even logistical issues with completing their work.

“Fundamentally, life is not the same. It just isn’t. I’m not going to pretend I know everything these kids are dealing with, or what our teachers are dealing with,” Addley said.

“There are those already dealing with emotional or mental health issues, making it even more impossible to function,” he said.

Schools Director of Guidance Meghan Emanuelson said her department has been dealing with families coping with illness of one kind or another, and students that they were already dealing with before schools closed. Those students are reached out to proactively.

“There are also students who weren’t on our radar with concerns prior to this. They’ve done some self-advocating and we were made aware of it and have connected students and their families with those resources,” Emanuelson said.

Darien High students have also been connected with alumni to speak with. Emanuelson also said she’s been in touch with college reps who said they were dealing with their own difficulties with students eLearning and uncertainties.

“One hundred percent of these colleges have said they understand this is going to be an asterisk semester for everyone in the country. We will never penalize students for something out of their control,” she said.

Those who are particularly challenged by hardships can also be helped by the school counselor’s letter to colleges — which has always been used to describe specific situations to the student, Emanuelson said.

Most board members praised the district for the work they had done and how they “threaded this needle.”

If school returns after May 20

Gov. Ned Lamont has closed schools until at least May 20, and Board member Deb Ritchie asked how this plan would be handled if the schools would come back after that date.

“If we are coming back, and that remains to be seen, this system is going to be in place,” Addley said.

Dunn said that students would not be taking finals, even if the school reopens.

“How would we spend the last two to two and half weeks? Being with their friends and closing out the school year. We’ve been discussing options. Most don’t want a two-week project. If we come back, they will be engaged with classmates and teachers,” Dunn said.

Board’s role

Board chairman Tara Ochman pointed out the grading system presented by the administration is a decision made by the schools. She said the board did not have a vote in setting the plan.

“This is an operational matter. Our role here is oversight and to understand it from the education perspective,” she said.

Most board members praised the district for the work they had done and how they “threaded this needle.”

Other options

Addley said that he thought Darien had been the first district in the area to put a plan in place. He said some schools have mentioned giving students a choice but all of them would likely have some sort of pass-fail option.

“We consciously did not give the choice option,” Addley said.

The concern with giving students the option was that one grading plan was a lower quality than the other.

“We wanted to stay as consistent as much as we can,” Addley said.

Conclusion

Addley applauded the current and previous boards, and community district staff currently and previously for setting up the framework to be able to manage during this difficult time.

“You’re seeing the benefit of the personnel decisions and community process,” he said.

Ochman said the grading solution was not just a “big box” one.

“Thoughtful people put heart into it with the guidance of equity and to do no harm,” she said.

She added that the board should be proud and the community should be proud of the plan that incentivizes students, while not losing their attention and caring for them.

“This plan works to take all those esoteric factors into account,” she said.

The next Board of Education meeting is Wednesday, April 29. The materials for the new grading system will be posted at DarienPs.org.